Chillingo releases 11bit studios excellent strategy game onto iOS… and it’s awesome!
Now let me get one thing straight before I begin. I really do not like Tower Defense games. Any regular reader of this site, or listener of our podcast will know that I find them mind-numbingly tedious. So, after hearing last month during a playtest of the game that my colleagues Matt and Gabe described it as reverse Tower Defense, you can understand that I was not exactly counting the days to its release. However, as it turns out, reversing the mechanics of the Tower Defense genre was exactly what was needed for me to like it – correction – love it!
Tower Defense games require you to strategically place your battlements around an environment and then sit and wait for paint to dry while the enemy wanders in and, hopefully, gets their ass kicked. The enemy of course does fight back, and so once you have placed your towers you must then act as caretaker and keep them powered up with ammo and patched up when damaged. Anomaly turns this on its head, with you playing as the attackers, while the enemy is the one with the towers and the tapping of feet.
The game starts out with an exciting cinematic showing how an unknown alien race has attacked Earth and set up base in downtown Baghdad. The anomaly in question is a bubble of energy at the center of the alien force, and so you and your crack British unit have been sent in to investigate and destroy said force.
The core game is broken up into sections of Baghdad, with your unit starting on the outskirts of the enemy enclosure as you move ever closer and try and find a way in. Each level – or mission – gives you an overhead view of the battlefield as well as a briefing for it, which pinpoints the primary objectives on a tactical map overlay. From there you must set out the route for your unit to take, and select which unit types will join you. From the outset your unit is limited to one type, APC’s (or armored personnel carriers). But as you progress you learn new unit types, these include: the Crawler, a walking rocket launcher; Tanks, heavily armored and powerful; the Dragon, a plasma flame-thrower; Supply vehicles, which regenerate your abilities; and finally the Shield vehicle, which regenerates adjacent units.
All enemy units are pinpointed on the map, allowing you to plot a course either to avoid them, or engage them. It’s not required for you to destroy all the enemies on screen, but destroying enemies does reward you with more points and – more importantly – power-ups.
These power-ups, known as abilities, are airdropped near your position on the map for you to pick up. They include: the repair ability, which as you can guess repairs damaged units; the smoke ability, which confuses the enemy and messes with their attack accuracy; the decoy ability, this will save your life more than any other ability as it attracts enemy fire away from your unit for a short period of time; last up is the airstrike ability, which lets you call in an airstrike on any area of the map.
You can apply any ability by selecting it and tapping over the area you want to apply it to. Each has a set range. So, for example, once deployed, the decoy shows a circle around it showing which enemies will be drawn to shoot at it, while those enemies out of range will simply ignore it. Abilities are not infinite though, and you’ll only have a few of each at anyone time. You will need to be strategic about which ones to use, and when.
This reversed TD dynamic instantly makes things far more interesting, and gives the game more of a real-time feel too. You have more to think about, and must think on your feet as your units move from one firefight to another. Your unit’s route is not permanent once it is set in motion, and can be changed at anytime on the fly. This is an essential part of the game, as the enemy often throws you a curve ball with new enemy types mid level, requiring you to rethink your strategy and think on your feet. You can also increase your unit numbers mid game too. Around the map are areas rich in alien metal, and you can divert your unit to harvest these metals, and with it buy extra units or upgrade your existing team.
Success of any level is finding the right balance between route and unit types. Get that right, and you can be home in time for tea. However, there isn’t ONE correct path. The maze of alternative routes can allow a ragtag unit of one, with the rest of its team lost, to still emerge victorious. Many of my favorite battles were in fact the drawn out ones, where thinking all was lost, I would need to double back and destroy more enemies, just so I could retrieve more powers ups for my second run at the objective.
The reverse mechanic is not the only thing that makes this game stand out from other strategy games. Its presentation is top notch too. From the great user interface to the in-game graphics, it’s a feast on the eyes as much as it is a workout for the brain. I love how the strategic – torn-like – map overlay seamlessly morphs into the full detailed grit of battlefield. The game was born to be a touch-based game, with an intuitive interface for selection and deployment of abilities, and plotting your unit’s route and moving around the battlefield effortlessly.
The sound design is also pulled off with aplomb. The effects fit the action well, as does the music. A particularly like the voice-over work. To me it sound like Ross Kemp (of East Enders fame), but most will liken it to the cockney grit of the British SAS voice work from COD: Modern Warfare.
As it turns out, the game was not born first on iOS, and was instead available for Mac and PC. It’s not a full port either, with some difference in level structure and it is less detailed in its graphics (though only noticeable if seen side-by-side). The original also had a foot soldier, used as a pointer of sorts. It was well implemented, but having played both versions I prefer this touch-based version from a control point-of-view. It makes it feel like you are the commander of the whole unit, and not just a runner.
Beyond the campaign mode, which gives you around 4 hours of action – leading up to the showdown with the anomaly itself – there is a ton of replay value. As I mentioned before, there is no set ‘correct’ way to win a level, and so you may even find you fail when replaying a level you beat easily the first time. Trying different unit types is part of the fun, and you can also play each mission over three difficulty levels. The icing on the cake is an iOS exclusive wave-based mode called Squad Assault, which throws ten ‘timed’ objectives at you in quick succession on the one map. It is unlocked from the outset, but you must achieve the different unit types in the main game before you can use them here.
11 Bit studios have created an innovative take on what is, in my opinion, a stale genre. The great level designs, presentation and intuitive touch interface all come together to create a symphony of intense ‘edge-of-your-seat’ action, that is so engaging it’s almost impossible to put down. If this game isn’t already on your iPhone and iPad then what the heck are you waiting for? Stop reading this and get it now!